Why it’s so Hard to Talk (Mental Health Awareness)

Why it's so Hard to Talk (Mental Health Awareness) Go Paolo

It’s difficult to talk about mental health from a third-person perspective but it’s even more difficult from a personal perspective.

When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). And I probably had Social Anxiety Disorder growing up seeing as how I would sooner piss myself than having a direct conversation with anyone.

But I don’t regret any of it. I became the person I am today, a writer, because of them.

I took medication and but it never helped and I made sure to use every counselor I was entitled to via my tax dollars or overpriced tuition.

But 15 years to the date and despite realizing that most of my childhood issues from shyness to mood swings to having the attention span of a dog being tied to these "disorders" makes me think about the cause of my mental illness.

I don’t know.

In fact, most people who suffer from mental illness do not know why.

It isn’t only the stigma or an act of machismo (especially from men) that prevents people from coming out.

It’s because we don’t know how.

Work Versus Mental Illness: Why There is Stigma

Talking about mental illness always sounds like an excuse.

It sounds like a weakness.

A scapegoat.

I’m fortunate to live in a country that treats this issue as a real thing. Bell Let’s Talk is a wonderful initiative and something most influential corporate entities should follow suit.

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Celine Dion is a major proponent of Bell Let's Talk

Even with this awareness, I still don’t want to get a cup of coffee over thoughts of suicide or the hopelessness of existence.

Living in a capitalist society where being tough and competitive does that to you.

Why would a company hire you if you had a mental illness?

You can potentially lose job opportunities if you admitted to being depressed or having a form of mental illness.

The Big Five Personality Test is an example of a business-approved test used and is used in hiring processes. It is entirely plausible to bomb the hiring process by testing high and low on the wrong scores.

James Damore got fired by Google because he outed the fact that women score higher on the “neuroticism” score than men hence why they are not as equipped to handle jobs in information technology:

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James Damore's Memo highlighted women's alleged neuroticism

There is this stigma around society that if you have mental illness you are ineffective in carrying out tasks. They can cry you a river as a friend or as another human being but as an employer, you’re as good as dead.

It’s hard to say it isn’t personal but as humans, we often pretend we’re not.

Writing, Isolation, and Escapism: Mental Illness’s Cause and Effect

I can’t fully comprehend it. People said it was teen angst and it was an effect of puberty. Call it what you will: a developing brain, imbalanced hormones, a stage in life.

I turned to writing: the ultimate form of escapism.

Writing wasn’t enough. I fed my hobby with other forms of escapist pleasures: video games, movies, drugs, and pornography.

It exacerbated the condition because my social skills didn’t develop and the more I gained social anxiety. And the more I had social anxiety, the less I wanted to socialize and just bury myself in my addictions.

What I am today is because of my mental illness.

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I didn't choose to have depression or anxiety. I just did. And I look back at all the memorable and painful events in my life and see it from a darker perspective. A sobering one.

Most of the great authors and artists in history lived and died with some type of mental illness or addiction problem. It’s no coincidence.

Being a writer requires being alone for most of your waking life. And I don’t mean literally being by yourself. I mean blocking out all the outside noise. Distancing yourself from people. Concentrating on your inner world.

Even if you’re in a healthy mental state, the prolonged periods of isolation can eat at you like parasites. It’s a blessing if you find yourself an editor who constantly keeps tabs and if you write from a physical location or work with an actual team of people who can provide support.

But if you’re like me, and I reckon, most freelance writers are, a good portion of your clients are online and communicate online.

For the most part, you’re just by yourself: writing, editing, proofreading, formulating your own ideas and managing yourself.

All this focus on yourself and you can forget there is an outside world.

What Causes Mental Illness is Difficult to Understand

I can attribute my own mental illness to external factors. In an ideal scenario, if we fixed these problems we would all get better. But of course, life isn’t that simple.

In my high school years, I was often bullied for coming from a rich family. All the kids picked on me because I was perceived as being a pushover.

Coming to Canada, it didn’t change much. The bullies just changed the reason: I had an accent and they made fun of me for it.

These seemingly trivial matters can potentially impact a person’s life permanently. Maybe my anger and bitterness stem from this. Maybe I still deal with social anxiety because I am subconsciously always reminded of what happens when I interact with others: I get hurt.

I always felt my parents had unreasonably high expectations for me as well. This added so much pressure on me to do well in school and to go to the path they wanted for me.

Even after they repeatedly said otherwise, I never got over this feeling. And even after the bullying stopped, I never stopped feeling threatened.

In hindsight, the trauma of bullying was the mother of my mental illness. A sheltered boy who was given everything he wanted and treated with adulation shockingly discovers the world doesn’t respect him much less adore him.

It makes sense now years after the fact. But while experiencing it, analyzing your situation and your being is muddled by a cloud of doubt.

It’s hard to talk about mental illness because it’s hard to understand personally. And it’s even harder to fully comprehend how external factors may have led to it.

Opening Up About Mental Illness

Going through a traumatic experience is painful to admit. There is a stigma. But for some, like myself, it’s more of an issue with pride.

How can an event that is so petty be so hurtful to me?

Hollywood and the news media makes us think that only by undergoing extreme situations like poverty, war, and abusive childhoods are we allowed to feel hurt. But it isn’t a competition.

It should be okay to admit that being made fun of as a child has deeply and permanently altered your self-perception.

Only with admission can you accept it. And only by accepting it can you come closer to a more impersonal understanding of what your mental illness and why it exists.

I don’t mean to speak for those who have other forms of mental illness. This is simply my own experience and my own interpretation.

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But we must try to communicate with each other about this.

On the surface, we may just be quiet and pleasant to each other. Maybe we can be a bit moody, aloof, and snobby. But deep down, it’s another story.

Unless we all start sharing then we will never really know.

One of the most common themes of people who suffer from mental illness is the feeling of being alone and misunderstood.

“Nobody can understand what I am going through.”

But as more people open up, we will find more similarities and come closer to understanding each other. And maybe we will realize that despite how different we all are, our stories will share similar themes.

We’re only just human.

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me – Taking a Leap of Faith

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me - Taking a Leap of Faith Go Paolo

Follow your dreams. This is what NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) taught me in many ways and sometimes you must go for it, no ifs and buts.

For the record, I hated this advice. It’s this crap that makes me squeamish for its naivety. But after years of misery, working bullshit jobs, and forming bullshit friendships, I was surprised how difficult it was to follow.

My life has been a three-star Yelp review. It’s serviceable but doesn’t stand out and will most likely be avoided by everyone because every high-standard wannabe wants five stars everything. If you’re late for a second or screw up they give your restaurant a one-star review and ruin it.

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What my average life looks like

But I digress. I’m not bitter. But I’m also not the happiest guy.

I’m not rich and not yet successful, and in my early 30s, should be trying to chase money, buying property, and finding a partner of crime. But I’m not.

The studies can go screw themselves because despite what millennials say or do, my friends can attest they still plan to “settle down” and start a family.

Instead, what I’m doing is taking the biggest risk of my life. Because I’m an idiot, a glutton for punishment, and because I am a writer and if I didn’t feel a degree of self-loathing and suffocating self-doubt then I wouldn’t be one.

I’m pursuing a childhood dream: to be a published novelist. And I’m using NaNoWriMo as a kickstart to 2018 where I’ll have something off a manuscript finished. I call it: “NaNoWriYay”.

 What is NaNoWriMo?

Short for “National Novel Writing Month”, NaNoWriMo is a challenge that takes place during November in which participants try to write a book or a “50,000-word manuscript”.

It started in 1999 when freelancer Chris Baty began the project with 21 participants. It has since blown up to have as many as 400,000 participants in the previous year.

The website offers a great deal of many benefits for writers. It has pep talks to inspire, forums to connect with other aspiring writers, and even a shop so you can externally validate your pursuit.

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via the official NaNoWriMo website

Why do NaNoWriMo? For various reasons. I started it because I’ve always wanted to write a book and never really focused on it. The point of this whole project was to dedicate one entire month to just doing this.

Granted, most participants probably didn’t quit their day jobs or abandoned their families. If someone has, I’d love to talk to this person.

But every person, writer or not, has at one point probably thought of writing a book or a similar creative project that involves telling a story. Since none of us are like David Henry Thoreau who literally just took days off to enjoy the fine countryside and write his thoughts down, we never get around to doing it.

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NaNoWriMo isn’t just about trying to write a book. It’s about following your passion and doing something just for the love of it.

As a professional writer, I’ve become detached from most of what I write because it’s just a way of life for me now. Not that I don’t enjoy writing anymore, but it’s become like muscle memory. Going through the motions.

NaNoWriMo is also a chance to connect with other writers and form a network. Contrary to popular belief, writing is a “team sport” and the more writers you know, the better. November is one of the best times to build a network.

 Why Writing is a Terrifying Passion

Studies suggest most people make the brunt of their income between their 30s and 50s but with how competitive the job markets are, most people start early.

So here I am in my 30s and looking to pursue a dream that will likely:

  • Not make me any money and cost me money
  • Take time away from meeting potential partners
  • Push me deeper into the rabbit hole of my mind
  • Cause me a lot of frustration, misery, and madness

Trust me when I say writing is a passion project. Nobody willingly gets into this because they think they can make a lot of money. Technical writers make six figures but if any of those sods wake up all excited about writing instruction manuals then I’ll stick my dick in a fire ant hole and sing Despacito all day.

What makes this terrifying is how you can dedicate your life to a craft and end up with nothing. No rewards, no money, not even any kind of recognition. It’s solely for love. And it makes me wonder what makes it so different from an addiction.

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But I don’t want to do anything else.

At least NaNoWriMo is a beacon that there are other crazy fucks like myself who feel narcissistic or delusional enough to pursue their love.

All that time I have just been distracting myself from the one thing I had to do: write a novel.

Most novelists don’t make money. You think about your J.K. Rowlings and Stephen Kings and for every one of them, there are countless others who are working full-time jobs because nobody gives a shit about the books they write.

And it’s not even because their books suck. It’s simply because the damn Internet is so cluttered with crap that it’s hard to find a good book.

That’s the terrifying aspect of this all. That your “success” is almost always not determined by your skill or your hard work but by goddamn luck and marketing.

Write About What You Want to Write About

I guarantee you if you look up all kinds of writing tips, most so-called experts will advise you to do a lot of things that aren’t related to writing.

They’ll talk about the market, about what’s selling, about being specific on your genre, about the structure of stories, blah blah blah. Some might even go as far as incorporating blogging things like keywords, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media marketing.

But the fact of the matter is, what sells could easily be something you do not give two hoots about.

And with countless stories online and thousands popping up every day, the Internet is becoming a crowded place with way too many people all writing about the same thing and copying off each other.

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Write about what YOU want to write about.

This is your story, the one thing you can make that is you (not counting babies but even with that you need a partner for).

This is your legacy.

It might be naïve to simply think you can block out the world and write about your story because you need to care about all those things I mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t matter.

A great story will always be a great story no matter what age we live in.

Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic when I say that I feel like my life is coming to an end or it’s about to start going down.

But I like to think of it as motivation to start writing now.

Life has been great. Almost too great. I have my own schedule and I write for a living. If I don’t start writing my novel now, then, when will I?

But even for those who may not have the same flexibility, NaNoWriMo could be your own staycation.

NaNoWriMo is about taking that big leap of faith and dedicating yourself to produce something you can be proud of.

Why Mom’s Photos Brought Me To My Knees

Why Mom's Photos Brought Me To My Knees Go Paolo

I’m a crybaby. Watching movies, laughing at standup, or having my mom whoop my ass, verbally and physically, I bawl out all the time. Yet nothing prepared me for the emotional outburst I’d experience looking at mom’s photos.

It was a wintery weekend with an empty four-bedroom house in the buttfuck nowhere suburbs of Toronto better known as “Scarborough”. The house was empty. Brother was out. Parents on vacation.

Maybe it was the emptiness of the house. Maybe it was the winter blues or maybe it was my poor diet and lack of sleep. But whatever it was, it made me feel like a fucking pansy. A crybaby.

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I felt so drained emotionally and mentally. The idea of spending a weekend by myself in the cavernous house was depressing. And the FOMO was intense (that’s “fear of missing out” for the non-millennial readers).

Through my melancholy, I stared at the all the photos we had lying around our house. There were four frames standing by the drawers and even more hanging off the wall. They have been there for years, but it feels like they were just put there.

They were old photos from different timespans of our lives: baby all the way to my graduation year. Picking one up, it was a photo of all five of us on the cruise ship, I reminisced about my childhood and about all those times my mom got frustrated trying to get a “decent” photograph of all of us.

Filipino Moms and their Photos

Here’s what you need to know about Filipino moms: they NEED photographs.

To most if not all Filipino moms, having a decent photo collection is a part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs somewhere near the middle right with safety, need to belong, and a family.

They probably start a family, so they have more reasons to take photos.

As a kid, I was always irritated by how painstaking my mom was in taking photos. Here is a collection of her classic photoshoot directions:

“Smile. Teeth out. No, not too much.”

“Your smile looks so forced. Be happy, anak! Life is good.”

“Look at the camera. Yes! Directly at the camera.”

“Stop making funny faces. It’s not the time for funny faces yet.”

“Different angle now. And again, different pose.”

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This was a time when we didn’t have smartphones yet and Instagram was just a fantasy. We actually had physical pictures. My aunt worked at Wal-Mart’s one-hour photo lab and we didn’t have Photoshop.

With all that said, I hated taking photos. What normal kid enjoyed them?

I never understood why this meant so much to her.

My mom always said, “Ito na nga lang ang aking kaligayahan (this is my only joy).”

I finally realized: it wasn’t about the photographs.

It was about us. Her family.

I couldn’t hold back, and I cried uncontrollably and fell to my knees. My face felt flushed. I cried so much, snot poured out of my nose. It was straight out of a Filipino teleseria.

My mom is still alive and well. I have every opportunity to thank her and show her my love.

Maybe I cried out of regret for all those times I treated these photographs as a joke or all those times I was mean to her or thought of her as a burden.

Or maybe they were tears of happiness for the epiphany.

Most people don’t realize how much someone or something meant to them until it’s gone forever.

 Why is it so Hard to Appreciate People Now?

Most people see me as a sensitive soul, but truth is, I can be so self-absorbed it’s insensitive to everyone around me. I can also say and do hurtful things even when I don’t mean to and unfortunately, it’s my mom who is one of the first to absorb my bitchiness.

It’s an everyday phenomenon. People tend to take for granted the people they love and there is sort of a scientific explanation for it.

Familiarity breeds contempt because we humans have this uncanny ability to get used to things. It becomes a part of everyday life like taking the bus to work or eating going to bed at a certain time.

It’s hard to appreciate people or even things we currently have because only by losing them will we truly realize their value.

As miserable as that sounds, it’s a truth in life. We, humans, have an almost unlimited ability to imagine anything except for what something will actually feel like should we experience this.

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That’s why even if we know to appreciate someone now while we have them, it’s difficult nay, almost-impossible to truly grasp their value in our lives. It’s only natural.

But even if it’s “natural” for us to do it, we’re better than that. We’re not mere animals.

As humans, we can do more than what our instincts tell us. That’s what separates us from tigers, sharks, and even our pet animals.

I hate to end this mini-revelation with a deflating ending, but I didn’t pick up the phone and call my mom nor did I send her a love letter or a long text pouring my heart out and telling her exactly how much I loved her and how much she meant to me.

I simply collected myself and ruminated on how I can treat her better. And it didn’t include doing extra chores, buying her flowers more, or taking her out to dinners (though these are all great ideas).

It’s simply treating her better in the small ways.

Smile and Enjoy Every Photograph

We don’t take as many photos now as we did before. But every chance we get, I not only do them but enjoy them more.

I look at photographs now and think they should be treasured like hardbound copy books of classics. Today, it seems like a hassle but

But at the end of it all, I am still her pride and joy. She is very critical of us and it is almost impossible to live up to her expectations, but she is probably harder on herself.

We treat our loved ones the way we treat ourselves.

I’ll always love her for this.

I love my mom. I’ve written countless cards and given countless presents. But at the end of it all, the greatest gift I can give her is my undivided time and attention.

Mom loved photographs because they captured all the moments she spent with us. It is then my responsibility to make every time we spend her a moment worthy of being a photograph.